Summary: Ashley O is a popular pop star and Rachel is a big fan. Rachel buys an Ashley Too doll and enjoys talking with it. Her sister Jack doesn't care much for it and eventually hides it because it's a bad influence. Ashley's manager Catherine is forcing her to continue making music to pander to her fans. They get in a fight and Ashley is put into a coma. Catherine continues producing her music and plans to replace Ashley. Ashley's mind fragments into the Ashley Too doll. The doll requests Rachel and Jack to help her get back at Catherine. Rachel and Jack take the doll to Ashley's comatose body. Ashley wakes up and they drive to where Catherine is introducing a new Ashley Eternal. Ashley makes her presence known and Catherine panics. Some time later, Ashley and Jack are performing together as a new rock band.
The Good: This episode had a pretty interesting concept. The doll thing was interesting and I like the idea of a person's consciousness living inside of a doll while still having control of their body. I thought that the doll coming to life was a pretty cool moment and its interactions with Rachel and Jack were pretty funny at times.
I liked the commentary on music stars. Ashley's story is pretty rough to watch and it sends a good message, showing how the creativity of people can be squashed by greedy people who are hungry to pander to a specific audience and make money. It was particularly powerful seeing Catherine taking Ashley's musical dreams and just changing them to suit her views with just a few button presses. It's so easy to assimilate creativity into something fake with no heart.
The Bad: Unfortunately this episode was bad. The characters of Jack and Rachel are so boring and uninspired. There is no real story for them, and the emotional beats are completely glossed over. These characters don't change or develop and they are completely boring. I'm given no reason to care about either of them. Their arguments are generic and boring, and they don't even lead anywhere. The lack of a character story for them is a huge flaw of the episode, especially considering how much of the episode is spent with them.
The first 3/4 of this episode are bad. The story is stagnant, the characters are boring and after watching the episode, it's all quite pointless. Rachel and Jack's story gets a ridiculous amount of build-up, yet it goes nowhere. The fact that their story is shared along with Ashley's doesn't help either storyline, and it made the episode feel fragmented for a while. Furthermore, there is hardly anything of value for these first 40 minutes. The episode is padded out to a ridiculous degree.
The writing was really poor for the climax of the episode. So many of the things that happened were absurdly poorly executed and made little sense. The house infiltration was ridiculous. It was extremely convenient that they arrived at the house just as Catherine was leaving. The rodent exterminator thing was so, so dumb. Neither Jack nor Rachel were convincing in the role, and I couldn't buy into Bear letting them in at all. He really should have just told them to go away, especially since Ashley's comatose body was inside the house. Another stupid detail was how Ashley woke up (which is dumb enough itself), and Rachel/Jack apparently don't even talk to her. They just leave her until Munk arrives at the house, which is when they conveniently knock him out. Another stupid moment was them running the red light for absolutely no reason. Why do something so incredibly dangerous for no reason? Having them try to drive away from the cops was even worse and only added to the many stupidities I had just witnessed.
The ending of the episode ended up being atrocious. It isn't even an ending. The episode hits its climax and then it just ends. It's sudden and reeks of the writers being too lazy to come up with a proper resolution. The band scene at the end is pretty stupid and it doesn't feel earned in the slightest. No plot threads or character arcs were fully resolved and I felt like I waste an hour of my life going on this journey with the characters. There is absolutely no pay-off for any of the stories.
This doesn't feel like a "Black Mirror" episode. The overly goofy tone is so weird, and the abysmal writing makes this feel even worse. It's so hard to believe that this episode is part of the same series that produced harrowing episodes like "White Christmas" and "Shut Up and Dance".
The Unknown: What happened to Catherine? Was she punished? Were there any consequences for the police chase at the end of the episode?
What happened to the Ashley Too doll? The episode isn't even interested enough in exploring how to morally deal with this human consciousness inside the doll.
Best Moment: Probably Catherine and her men sabotaging the music in Ashley's dream. Nothing else really stood out to me.
Character of the Episode: Ashley.
Conclusion: This was a poor episode. The story was practically worthless and the writing was really bad. This was a bad way to end off season 5.
Season 5 ended up being disappointing. The first two episodes were good but unspectacular, and the last one was atrocious. In the end, this was easily the most forgettable season of "Black Mirror". The show has taken a steep fall in quality since season 2 and this season did nothing to reverse that. Following "Bandersnatch", I feel like this season was rushed out and didn't really end up having any heart as a result. Let's hope the writers can take their time with the story for season 6.
Summary: Chris is a taxi driver but he stations himself at the headquarters for Smithereen, a social media app. He also attends group therapy sessions but never really says anything. One day, a man named Jaden gets Chris' service. Chris takes him to a hidden location and pulls a gun on him, and they switch cars. Some passing cops notice Jaden captured in the backseat, so they go after Chris. Chris spins out in a field and cops surround the place. Chris is still alive as he threatens Jaden's life. Chris wants to call Billy Bauer, the head of Smithereen, and after some tense struggling with the cops and the FBI, he eventually gets a hold of Billy. Chris reveals he lost his fiancée in a car accident because he checked his phone while driving, but he was never blamed for the accident since the other driver was drunk. Chris intends to kill himself and attempts to talk him down by Billy and Jaden fail. In the end the cops are forced to shoot him after a scuffle between Chris and Jaden breaks out.
The Good: I enjoyed this a lot more than the last episode. While last episode told a good story, it didn't really invest me into the characters/plot, plus the pacing was painfully slow. This episode fixed these flaws by giving us a mysterious main character who ended up being very compelling, as well as a plot which was dripping with tension that capitalized on the slow burn pace to maximal effect. The episode goes on for 70 minutes, yet it never lost my attention because of how well it built towards a dramatic climax through some slowly escalating drama and an interesting mystery.
The episode's tone was quite perfect too. It's clear through the music, camera shots and colour that there is something up with Chris early in the episode. These cleverly edited tricks kept me in suspense during the slow opening scenes of the episode, which is much more interesting that what "Striking Vipers" had to offer in its opening moments.
One of the central themes of this episode was grief, and I thought it was executed wonderfully. Hayley as a side character is really good and she works as a strong mirror to Chris with how she deals with the grief of losing her daughter. Hayley doesn't know why Kristin killed herself and that is what is eating at her for all of these years. Yet Chris is the opposite. He knows that he is responsible for his fiancée's death, and he rejects himself because of it. For Chris it isn't a quest for answers, it's all about cleansing himself of the guilt he feels.
Speaking of Chris' guilt, the episode it its peak when he confessed everything to Billy. His story is powerful and sad, and Andrew Scott does a marvellous job showing Chris' grief. I thought the final portion of the episode did a great job of conveying Chris' delicate emotional state, showing us why he had been so unstable for most of the episode. I thought that Chris' emotions emerging was very believable, and I really like how it seemed to touch Billy and Jaden too as the two of them did their absolute best to help Chris survive this ordeal.
The other main theme is that of social media. While this one isn't executed as well (see: The Bad), it still has some great moments. I really liked Chris' rant about phones when he realized that Jaden wasn't the person he was looking for. It's a fairly funny moment on your first watch because of how little we know about Chris, but on rewatch it's quite tragic and is a great rant about the exact problem Chris has with Smithereen: it's too addictive and it controls your life. I thought the ending was wonderful. After all that happened, Chris' fate just ends up being another notification on Smithereen. Everyone sees what happened, has a sad look on their face, but then they just resume their lives as if nothing has happened. Social media is desensitizing violence in the world as well.
The Bad: I thought that the climax of this episode was unfortunately quite disappointing, despite everything it did right. After so much build-up, I expected something new and crazy to happen at the end of the story. Unfortunately, "Black Mirror" opted to go with the easiest and most predictable ending to the episode and that left me feeling a little bit underwhelmed, especially after so much slow paced build-up. For the final message to just be "phones are bad", after all the tense drama I had just witnessed, was just a big disappointment. Furthermore, Chris' reasoning seems a bit extreme. It's hard to buy that he would go through all of this trouble to talk to one specific guy just because he felt guilty. It didn't feel very realistic that Chris would do all of this. I certainly buy Chris blaming Smithereen to offput his guilt, but I could hardly buy him doing this whole stunt just to tell Smithereen that he blamed them.
The Unknown: Did Jaden get hurt or killed in the scuffle? Could he have accidentally been shot instead of Chris? I hope not because it would hurt the ending if Chris didn't actually die.
Best Moment: Chris letting everything out when talking to Billy. This scene felt so real and I think anyone could relate to this. Chris had gone as far as to rehearse this conversation, yet when he finally got to it, he could hardly bring himself to let everything out. Watching him break out in tears during his big confession was so wonderfully real, and will make even the hardest of people sympathize with Chris even after all of the terrible things he did.
Character of the Episode: Chris.
Conclusion: Most of this episode was excellent, and there was a lot of emotion presented throughout. But the anticlimactic ending leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, and I'm left feeling that a better conclusion is all that stands between this episode being good and it being great.
Summary: Danny and Karl are best friends that play a video game Striking Vipers together. Seven years later, Danny is married to Theo whiel Karl is still dating. Karl gets Danny a VR version of Strikign Vipers and they play it together but they end up having sex with the characters. Weirded out, they try to stop it but they keep coming back. Theo notices something is off with Danny and wants answers. Danny decides to cut Karl off and he resumes his life with Theo. The next year, Danny and Karl meet again and Karl says he can't replace Danny with anyone else. They eventually do it again and Danny realizes he likes it too. Danny and Theo make a deal to remain married but both of them now indulge in other activities to stay fresh. Danny continues his fantasies with Karl while Theo now gets it on with strangers in the bar.
The Good: This was an interesting episode. The story is quite simple and easy to relate to. The three lead characters had all grown up and were living their lives, yet none of them were truly happy. There was that spark that they were all missing, and they desired to bring it back. By the end of the episode, all three characters were able to work things out and get the happiness they were craving. It's a simple story, much simpler than most "Black Mirror" stories, but it works and is easy enough to enjoy. As usual, the writing and acting is rock solid, which adds on to the experience.
This episode also does the little things really well. I appreciated the subtle moments early in the episode that showed the unhappiness that the main characters were all experiencing. Additionally, I liked the amount of red herrings that were included while the story built up. I was never too sure what the episode was going to be about in the first 15 minutes. At first I thought it may involve some kind of love triangle, or maybe an affair, then I thought maybe it would be heavily about the VR concept, but in the end it was a simple, heart-warming story about a very unorthodox gay couple. The episode certainly knew how to be unpredictable with its concept.
The technology aspect of the episode was quite strong too. I liked the Mortal Kombat parody, Striking Vipers and I like that the show explored what a fully VR game would be like and how it could be used for purposes other than what was intended.
The Bad: This episode is very slow and I don't think it needed to be an hour long. The first 15 minutes were a chore to get through and the subtle build up for the episode wasn't enough to keep me fully invested. It took far too long for the story to go from the introduction to the hook, and by the time we got there, 1/4 of the episode was done. An accelerated pacing early in the episode would have really helped.
Furthermore, the extra time really doesn't add any extra value to the episode. The episode barely explores its story. For one, the characters were surprisingly simple. "San Junipero" had detailed characters who had many complex layers. Compared to that, the characters in this episode are quite embarrassing because of how 2-dimensional they are. All three are remarkably forgettable, and I bet that within a week I won't even remember their names, nor will I care. Since the characters are so bland, I didn't really get emotionally invested in this episode. It was well written and I enjoyed it, but it really didn't do anything special for me.
I also wish that the VR concept could have been explored more. It ended up being hardly touched upon, and it really didn't impact the story very much. You could easily tell the same story without the VR and it becomes a normal story of an affair. All the VR does is add the "ick" factor to the episode, and that isn't anywhere near enough of a contribution. I was left wanting more from a "Black Mirror" episode that tackles the evolution of video games, particularly a closer look at how people would balance their real life vs their life in a video game. In the end, "Playtest" remains the superior video game episode of "Black Mirror".
I was disappointed that the conclusion of the Theo/Danny conflict was glossed over. It would have been nice to see Danny and Theo working out their problems together, and I think that a scene about this would have added some much-needed emotion to an episode I struggled to get fully invested in.
The Unknown: Was Danny lying when he said he felt nothing when he kissed Karl? I'm not sure I buy his response.
Best Moment: The ending with everyone getting a happy ending was nice, and the most emotional moment of the episode. I also really like that both Danny and Theo seemed pleased with the one day every year deal. It's a nice way too look into morality as you get to decide for yourself whether this one "cheat day" is good for a relationship or not.
Character of the Episode: Nobody really stood out at all. But I'l go with Karl since he made me laugh a couple times.
Conclusion: This episode told a nice story, but it was overly long and lacked the heart of most "Black Mirror" episodes. There could have, and should have, been more depth to this episode.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.